Emmanuel Macron may struggle to secure an easy win at next year’s presidential election should Marine Le Pen continue to win over support as in recent weeks. A recent Ipsos poll saw the Rassemblement National (RN) slash the French President’s 2017 lead over her by 10 percent, with Ms Le Pen gaining the support of 44 percent of survey participants compared to the 34 percent she gained in the second round against Macron previously. Members of the party have expressed optimism about their chances, hinting at a further increase in support for RN at the next election.
One RN MEP told Politico France: “We went from ‘she’s a plan B for life’ to ‘is she going to go up the slope?’ to ‘everything is possible!’
“Pretty good, isn’t it?”
French MEP Thierry Mariani suggested the recent increase in support for RN was due to Ms Le Pen’s ability to have the party move from the far right to the political spectrum to a more acceptable “populist” position.
Mr Mariani said: “Now we’re labelled ‘populists,’ not far-right, which is better. She isn’t scaring people off any more.”
Marine Le Pen has been keeping a rather low profile in recent months and will make her return to primetime television on Thursday when she will be facing off with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin in what is expected to be the first in a series of televised debates in the run-up to the election.
Attacks on Mr Macron have been limited, potentially due to the French President facing widespread backlash from the public because of his handling of the pandemic as well as for his proposed national security law.
Students have also joined protests in the past month as they demanded the Government take action to ensure their courses can be resumed safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Despite taking a step back in favour of younger members of RN, Ms Le Pen remains the leading star of the party.
Franck Allisio, a close adviser to Ms Le Pen, said: “Her strength is that she is a star.
“You can tour [Conservative politician] Xavier Bertrand around France and nobody cares. With her, that’s making noise.”
The Ipsos poll was conducted between January 27 and 28 with 1,000 adult French voters.
A Harris Interactive survey carried out between January 19 and 20 with 976 people returned similar results, with the gap between President Macron and Ms Le Pen closing further, with a 52 percent to 48 percent lead for Mr Macron.
Mr Macron has also had to grapple with the impact the coronavirus pandemic has been having on the French economy, with pressure mounting on the president to shut down the nation for the third time in a year.
A third lockdown would mean that the economy would take another hit, while the French are growing increasingly fed up with almost a year of government-imposed restrictions on their lives.
Already under a 6pm curfew and with some businesses by now closed for months, Mr Macron apparently feels that there is a growing possibility of civil unrest.
The French leader will be looking to avoid a result similar to that of the European elections in 2019, where his rivals mopped up much of the rural and deindustrialised areas of northern, south-central and eastern France.